The Sirens Records


SR5005: Primitive Piano   -- Speckled Red, Billie Pierce, Doug Suggs, James Robinson


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“… one of the most exhililarating discs of 50s blues piano you'll ever hear.” Kenneth Bays Blues Revue November 2003 “First released in 1957 on Tone Records, this small trove of St. Louis and Chicago boogie-woogie and blues piano stomped by house rent party favorites Speckled Red, James “The Bat” Robinson and Doug Suggs is now supplemented with rescued-from-cold storage performances highlighting the gifted 10 fingers of New Orleans eclectic Billie Pierce and Suggs again. Suggs also talks about comrades Jimmy Yancey and Albert Ammons on the interview track.”

Frank-John Hadley DownBeat January 2004

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“Here is an essential purchase for anyone interested in blues and jazz piano – primitive, in this case, decidedly does not mean unsophisticated but refers to the music's vibrant strength and purity. Originally recorded and released in 1957 by Chicago boogie pianist Erwin Helfer on his Tone label, this reissue is fleshed out (due to Helfer rummaging around his basement) with a surfeit of newly discovered contemporaneous selections of dirty blues, hymns and jazzers by New Orleans' grand dame of the ivories Billie Pierce, as well as a couple of house-party boogies by the Montana Taylor/Claude “Sweet Patootie” Brown-influeneced Doug Suggs. … The real treat here, however, is the concluding six-minute interview session with Suggs, who sounds like he knew all the other South Side boogie pianists of his day – including legendaries like Albert Ammons and Pinetop Smith along with total unknowns like Bill Grundy. A large tip o' the hat to the folks at Sirens for putting this fascinating project together.”

Gary von Tersch, Big City Rhythm & Blues Aug/Sept 2003
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“… Seven of the selections – by Speckled Red, Doug Suggs, and James Robinson – first appeared in 1957 as part of an LP of the same title on Tone Records, which was subsequently reissued by Folklyric, then by The Sirens. Newly discovered tracks from the same sessions – three by Suggs (including an interview about the early days of blues piano in Chicago) and five by Billie Pierce – have been added to the aforementioned seven to comprise the CD edition of this classic disc. …”

Lee Hildebrand, Living Blues March-June 2004
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“… Basically, these are four distinct players in a raucous barrelhouse style. Speckled Red's fingers skip lightly across the keys (especially on Oh Red). Billie Pierce has a fondness for the damper pedal and a rolling rhythm. Doug Suggs' pieces contain an almost fastidious attention to left-hand detail (check out Sweet Patootie). And James Robinson's tracks seem the most off-the-cuff, almost as if he's thinking out loud at the piano. … Primitive Piano is a glimpse into a style that's all but faded.”

Robert Iannapolo, Cadence November 2003
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“An embarrassment of blues and boogie keyboard riches by some of the best: Atlanta's Speckled Red and former drummer James “Bat the Hummingbird” Robinson are joined by Billie and Dede Pierce and house rent party maven Doug Suggs (also interviewed) on 14 vintage lowdown blues sparklers.”

GvonT, Sing Out, Summer 2004
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“… No element connects the earliest to the latest jazz more continuously than the blues. If you dig them, you can dig them early, late, or in between. It's all good.

Primitive Piano is a reissue of seven tracks recorded in 1956-7, plus seven more 'newly-discovered tracks' from the same period, plus a five-minute interview with Doug Suggs. The first three tracks by Speckled Red aka Rufus Perryman (b. 1892); then come two tracks by the St. Louis-born Suggs (b. 1894), and two by James Robinson (1904). The 'newly-discovered' (previously unissued?) tracks are five by Billie Pierce and two more by Suggs. All are very much the real deal. Perryman's first and best track, 'Dad's Piece,' is rhythmically much akin to his better-known 1929-30 sides, 'Dirty Dozens' and 'Wilkins Street Stomp.' Suggs' four tracks are much of a piece, showing the mettle of a man who held his own working Chicago during the same years as Yancey, Pinetop Smith, Albert Ammons and Cripple Clarence Lofton.

Robinson is especially winning on his two numbers. Haunting the tonic hypnotically, his piano work is at once rudimentary and inventive, his singing gentle and musing. The combination is extraordinarily moving, demonstrating how misleading the label 'primitive' can be. He ends 'Four O' Clock' with the high, plaintive hum which gave him the nickname by which he is better known – Bat, the Hummingbird.

Jazz fans who know Billie Pierce best from her band records with New Orleans groups led by her husband, cornetist Joseph (DeDe) Pierce, will not be disappointed by her gutsy, muscular, utterly authoritative performances here. DeDe joins her vocally on the two versions of 'Bye and Bye'; her solo blues tracks are very fine..... ”

Jim Leigh, The Mississippi Rag, June 2004
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